The Centre-Steer Prototype (1947)

The first prototype Land Rover was built up over the summer of 1947 and had been completed by mid-October that year. It was built on the chassis of a war surplus Jeep, and had a 1389cc four-cylinder petrol engine from the contemporary Rover 10hp saloon car. This prototype had its steering wheel in the middle - Rover's plan being to avoid the complication of building both RHD and LHD models by adopting the steering position familiar to tractor drivers. However, the central steering position rapidly proved impractical and was not repeated on other prototypes. There are still arguments about how many centre-steer prototypes were built. The most likely scenario is that just one was built as a complete vehicle - although Rover did buy two Jeeps for use in the project during 1947 and the other may have been converted to use Rover mechanical components but not rebodied. These two prototypes would then make up the missing pair from the 50 sanctioned by the Rover Board in 1947, only 48 "pre-production" models having been built. Despite persistent rumours to the contrary, the Centre-Steer prototype has almost certainly been lost, and was probably broken up at the factory during the 1950s.

Pre-Production Models (1948)

Work on a production design began during 1947, while the Centre-Steer prototype was still on test. Rover designed a completely new chassis, using box-section members instead of the Jeep's weak channel-section type but retaining the military vehicle's 80-inch wheelbase. The engine chosen was a detuned version of the brand-new 1595cc petrol four-cylinder which was then about to enter production for the P3 60 saloon cars. The body was completely redesigned, using Birmabright aluminium alloy panels. Between about January and August 1948, 48 "pre-production" models were built. Some had RHD and some had LHD, and there were several minor differences from one vehicle to the next as the design evolved. Other details were changed when series production began, with the result that the pre-production models also have several differences from the production 80-inch Land Rover. Some "pre-production" models were actually built after series production had begun.

Series I 80-inch, 1.6-litre (1948-1950)

The first production Land Rovers retained the 80-inch wheelbase of the prototype and pre-production models. They all had 1595cc the four-cylinder petrol engine. The transmission consisted of a four-speed primary gearbox with synchromesh on third and fourth gears only, plus a two-speed transfer gearbox. This arrangement gave permanent four-wheel drive, but a freewheel in the transmission allowed the rear axle to overrun the front to prevent transmission wind-up during road use. This freewheel was derived from a similar device used in Rover cars since 1932, where it allowed clutchless gearchanging. These vehicles were all built as basic utilities, with a full-length soft top. From 1950, it was possible to order a truck cab as an optional extra. Vehicles built before June 1949 had Light Green paintwork, and later ones were finished in Bronze Green. The first 4500 vehicles (approximately) had silver-painted chassis, the next 1500 or so had Light Green chassis, and then the chassis paint switched to Bronze Green at the same time as the body colour. The introduction of Bronze Green coincided with the first deliveries of a large order for the War Department, who wanted vehicles in this colour. During the first half of 1950, a pre-production batch of 50 vehicles was built with prototype 2-litre engines.

Series I 80-inch, 1.6-litre (1951)

The 1951 models brought two major changes to the original 80-inch Land Rover. The first was a change to selectable four-wheel drive and the deletion of the original freewheel (records suggest that some of the final 1950 models may also have had this new transmission.) The second was a visual change, with the fitting of larger headlamps and a new grille with circular cut-outs which fitted around them. Nevertheless, Bronze Green was still the only standard colour.

Series I 80-inch Station Wagon (1948-1951)

Rover announced a seven-seater Station Wagon variant of the Land Rover in October 1948. This had a body made by Tickford of Newport Pagnell, constructed in the traditional coachbuilder's way with alloy panelling over a wooden frame. Early Station Wagons came in Light Green; from mid-1949 some were finished in Light Green over Bronze Green; and the final vehicles were in all-over Bronze Green. The Station Wagon was never a great success. In the first place, its coachbuilt body made it expensive to manufacture. Secondly, it was classified as a passenger-carrying vehicle on the home market and was therefore subject to the Purchase Tax from which the basic Land Rover (classed as a commercial vehicle) was exempt. This inflated its price to unreasonable levels. Thirdly, the wooden body construction seems not to have proved sufficiently robust in some overseas territories. As a result, just 650 were built in three years, and the model was withdrawn at the end of 1.6-litre Land Rover production in summer 1951. In theory, it had disappeared from the home market a year earlier, although some late RHD models designated as export types did find owners in Britain.

Series I 80-inch 2-litre (1952-1953)

Demands for more power and torque in the Land Rover led to the development of a 2-litre engine, essentially a big-bore version of the older four-cylinder. This was introduced in autumn 1951 on the 1952 models. The 1952 and 1953 models were distinguished visually by a new radiator grille in the shape of an inverted T, which was simpler to manufacture than the 1951 type with its circular cut-outs. These were also the first Land Rovers (Tickford Station Wagons excepted) to have exterior door handles. Bronze Green was still the only standard body colour.

Series I 80-inch Welder (1948-1953)

The Land Rover Mobile Welder was introduced as a separate model with its own chassis number sequences, and spanned both 1.6-litre and 2-litre production. Rover considered it would be an important model, and even equipped the very first Show vehicle (pre-production L.05, at the Amsterdam Show in April 1948) as a welder. However, in practice sales were very slow, and only 113 were sold in five years of production. The Welder was basically a standard 80-inch Land Rover, equipped with a centre power take-off which drove a Lincoln arc welder mounted within the body. Those built before summer 1951 had the 1.6-litre engine, and the 1952-1953 models had 2-litre engines.

Series I Minerva 80-inch 2-litre (1952-1953)

In order to meet the requirements of a Belgian military contract, Rover arranged for a quantity of 80-inch models to be shipped across the Channel in CKD form. The vehicles were assembled and completed to local requirements by Minerva of Mortsel, near Antwerp. The vehicles built for the Belgian military had a unique specification, with bodies made of steel rather than alloy. They had special sloping front wings, a unique grille and a fixed rear panel instead of a drop-down tailgate. Much about the Minerva contract remains unclear. However, it seems probable that the CKD kits were stockpiled and that the military models continued to be built up against orders right through into 1956 – by which time the 86-inch Land Rover had taken over on the Solihull production lines. Some Minerva 80-inch models were sold on the civilian market, and these had a standard drop-down tailgate. It is probable (but not confirmed) that of the 8805 80-inch Minervas built, 8440 went to the Belgian authorities and 365 were civilian models.

Series I Tempo 80-inch 2-litre (1953)

In the early 1950s, West Germany was still forbidden from building its own military vehicles as part of the terms of surrender imposed at the end of the 1939-1945 war. Consequently, when the West German Border Police (Bundesgrenzschuutz or BGS) wanted some light 4x4 vehicles for military-type patrol duties along the East German border, they were obliged to buy them abroad. The contract went to the Rover Company, who supplied 189 vehicles to Vidal und Sohn of Hamburg in early 1953. This company then refitted them to meet BGS requirements. The refit included conversion to negative earth electrics, the addition of twin fuel tanks at the rear, and the construction of a new and taller rear body in steel with a cabriolet-type folding top. The front wings were equipped with snow chain and tool storage lockers and there was a large flat map locker on the bonnet. Most appear to have been fitted with capstan winches.

Series I 86-inch (1954-1956)

Demand from customers for greater payload capacity led to the introduction of the 86-inch Land Rover to replace the original model with its 80-inch wheelbase. The extra six inches in the wheelbase were all given over to the load bed, which thus offered 25 percent extra space (but there was no increase in the 1000 lb payload). The 86-inch Land Rover was introduced in September 1953 as a 1954 model. Those built in the first year had the original "siamese-bore" 2-litre engine, as used in the final 80-inch types. The 1955 and 1956 models had a revised engine known as the "spread-bore" type, with cylinder centres repositioned within the block to allow water passages between each pair of bores. Power and torque outputs of the two engine types were identical. The standard body configuration was an open pick-up with canvas tilt. A truck cab cost extra. These Land Rovers could be bought in four different colours: Bronze Green, Blue, Grey and Beige, the latter probably for export only. Hardtop roofs and Tropical roofs were normally finished in Ivory. Chassis frames on 1954-model 86-inch Land Rovers were painted to match the body, but the 1955 and 1956 models have black chassis.

Series I 86-inch Station Wagon (1954-1956)

A Station Wagon variant of the 86-inch Land Rover was available alongside the basic models. This had an all-metal seven-seater body which was more rugged and much cheaper to make than the coachbuilt body of the Tickford station wagon available on the 80-inch chassis between 1948 and 1951. It is not possible to determine exactly how many 86-inch Station Wagons were built, because surviving records do not distinguish them from the basic models which shared the same chassis number sequences. Paint options appear to have been limited to Blue and Grey, and the chassis were supposedly always painted to match the bodies.

Series I Minerva 86-inch (1954-1956)

Very little is known for certain about the 86-inch Minerva Land Rovers. It seems probable that all were built to a civilian specification (the majority of 80-inch Minervas having gone to the Belgian military), and it is very likely that the majority were exported. Like the 80-inch models which preceded them, these Minervas were shipped out from Solihull in CKD form to be assembled in Belgium. They had the same sloping front wings and steel bodywork as the Minerva-built 80-inch types. The 1954-season models would have had the original siamese-bore 2-litre engine, and later examples would have had the spread-bore type. There were 1100 86-inch Minervas built, and examples are exceptionally rare today.

Series I Tempo 86-inch (1954-1956)

The 80-inch Tempo models were followed by 86-inch models built to a very similar specification. These models had a spare wheel mounted on the bonnet in place of the large map locker of the 80-inch types. There were probably 187 or 189 of these vehicles in total. The 1954 models had the siamese-bore 2-litre engine, and later examples had the spread-bore type.

Series I 107-inch utilities (1954-1956)

The 107-inch model was introduced alongside the 86-inch in September 1953, to meet customer demand for a large load capacity. Initially known as the Land Rover 4-Wheel Drive Pick-Up Truck, it soon became the Land Rover 4-Wheel Drive Long Wheelbase. The model was never known as a 107 during its production life, but the name gained currency after the 109-inch models arrived in 1956. There were 20,345 examples of the 107, all of them pick-ups, with a truck cab as standard for the Home market and probably elsewhere too. The 1954 and 1955 107s were available only in Blue or Grey, but Green and Beige were added for 1956. On 1954 models, the chassis frame is painted blue, but on later examples it is in conventional black. As on the 86-inch models, the 2-litre "siamese-bore" engine was used only in 1954 models; the 1955 and 1956 107s have the 2-litre "spread-bore" engine with the same 1997cc swept volume and the same power and torque output.

Series I 107-inch Station Wagon (1956-1958)

Development of a long-wheelbase Station Wagon took a long time because the model needed a special chassis, with straight side-members to allow a flat floor and the rear springs mounted on outriggers to reduce body roll. By the time this was ready for production in 1956, the basic 107 chassis was about to be superseded by the 109-inch version. The 107-inch Station Wagon was announced with that name in June 1956, just three months before the other 107s were replaced. It remained available throughout the period when the other long-wheelbase Land Rovers had a 109-inch wheelbase, but was latterly renamed the Long Station Wagon. Although other 109s were replaced by Series II models in spring 1958, the 107 Station Wagon carried on until the autumn, when it too was finally replaced by a Series II model. There were just 7000 examples of the 107 Station Wagon, all with the 2-litre petrol engine. Only 239 were built for the Home market, and of those, about 15 were specially bodied by Bonallack as RAF mountain rescue ambulances. Standard models had 10 seats, of which four faced inwards at the rear. Paintwork was Grey or Blue, but Beige was also available for export and other colours were available to special order.

Series I 88-inch utilities (1956-1958)

The need for a diesel engine prompted a chassis redesign, in which the front axle was moved two inches further forward to leave room for the new diesel engine. However, the new 88-inch wheelbase chassis was introduced in summer 1956 with the familiar petrol engine only; the new diesel did not arrive until June 1957. All early diesel models were sold on the Home market and exports began in autumn 1957. In most respects, the 88-inch models were simply evolutionary improvements of the 86-inch types. Distinguishing features included a steel rather than alloy grille panel with three instead of five apertures (and this was also used on contemporary 107 Station Wagons); the front wheelarch is also noticeably further forward than on 86-inch models. The new diesel engine was an all-iron 2052cc overhead-valve four-cylinder. It was designed with power and torque outputs close to those of the existing petrol engine, so that the same transmission components could be used. Of the 25,944 88-inch models built (including Station Wagons: see below), just 2353 had the diesel engine. The total also includes 655 petrol-engined models built for the British Army in 1958 with undriven front axles. Note that serial numbers on 1956-model 88s continued the sequences initiated by 1956-model 86s, but with different identifying prefixes.

Series I 88-inch Station Wagon (1956-1958)

The 88-inch Station Wagon was a direct replacement for the seven-seat 86-inch type. It differed from the earlier models mainly in its chassis, and in the availability from June 1957 of a diesel engine. All examples were numbered within the main sequences for 88-inch models and exact production totals are not known.

Series I 109-inch utilities (1956-1958)

The 109-inch models were evolutions of the 107-inch types, differing from these in the same ways as the 88s differed from the 86s. Like the 88s, they were introduced with the petrol engine only in summer 1956, and their chassis serial numbers carried on from the final 107s but had different prefixes. Diesel versions became available in June 1957, and exports of diesels began that autumn. There were 16,132 109-inch utilities, of which just 1,099 were diesels. There was never a Station Wagon version of this model.